She was the hero just three days ago. But in what should've been a relatively easy win for the U.S. women's national team, two errors from goalkeeper Hope Solo forced the U.S. to settle for a surprising 2-2 draw against Colombia on Tuesday, finishing another underwhelming group stage for the U.S.
Colombia's Catalina Usme scored twice on set pieces that Solo would normally be expected to handle with ease, negating goals from Mallory Pugh and Crystal Dunn for the Americans. The U.S. still won Group G with the result, but in a tournament where momentum can be key, the U.S. doesn't head into the quarterfinals with much.
The Americans went down first in the 26th minute. On what should've been a routine catch for arguably the best goalkeeper in the world, Solo either misjudged the power behind Usme's free kick or the ball just slipped through her gloves. Either way, the ball rolled right between Solo's legs to put Colombia ahead.
The U.S. had fought back and taken the lead before Usme beat Solo again on a free kick, this time from a much trickier angle to the right of the penalty area. With the game trickling into stoppage time, Solo whiffed on her punch to clear the ball away and it went unfettered into the net. Solo has surpassed 100 shutouts and won the Golden Gloves at two World Cups in her career -- she can't always be perfect, but in an Olympics is not when Americans want to see her making rare mistakes.
It feels like a bit of deja vu for a team that underwhelmed in the group stage of the Women's World Cup last summer and still managed to win the whole thing. The difference, though, is that while the U.S. was able to dip into their roster depth and change formations as they went last summer, it appears they have fewer options here with a roster five players smaller than the World Cup.
Ellis rotated her squad heavily coming into face Colombia and used a handful of backups. Likely expecting a relatively easy win, as most pundits did, she rested five of the starters who beat a very tough France team only three days ago. Alex Morgan, Tobin Heath, Meghan Klingenberg, Allie Long and Pugh all started on the bench.
It's doubtful Ellis cared what Colombian coach Fabian Taborda had to say, but he did his part to try to lull the Americans into a false sense of comfort before the game. He told reporters that attackers Lady Andrade and Carolina Arias were worn out and would be rested and that Usme was injured. But by the time game time rolled around, all three of them were in the starting lineup with Usme scoring both goals.
Beyond Solo's errors, the U.S. had their chances to put the match out of reach and didn't. With Christen Press and Pugh two-on-one, Pugh dished a ball off to Press who had a clear shot, but Press instead tapped it back to a sprinting Pugh who was offside by then. In only the third minute, Carli Lloyd sent a header off the crossbar.
There were positive signs for the U.S. though. As surprising as the result was, the Americans still looked dominant throughout the night, out-shooting Colombia 16-3 and holding a whopping 65 percent of the possession. Notably, Megan Rapinoe played her first minutes since December and did pretty well, making a couple of very dangerous crosses, including the one that Lloyd sent off the crossbar. But Ellis planned to have her play just 30 minutes before Pugh replaced her, making the decision to start Rapinoe feel like serious underestimation of the Colombian side.
Pugh's goal was a strong showing of individual effort from the rookie who has yet to play professional or college soccer. With a box filled of yellow shirts, she dribbled toward the far post to find space, turned, and fired a shot. Dunn's goal came from beating a handful of Colombian defenders to a rebounded Lloyd shot, another individual spark of attacking effort.
But the Americans will need more than individual effort to win their fifth gold medal. And with the win-or-exit knockout rounds beginning on Friday, a draw to a team 24 spots below the U.S. in the world rankings is not how the Americans wanted to advance out of the group stage.
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